Piastri calls for bigger penalties after “blatant” overtake off the track from Russell in F1 sprint

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One of the most controversial moments during yesterday’s Sprint Race was George Russell’s outside move on Oscar Piastri on Lap 3. The incident, which saw the Mercedes driver leaving the track to gain an advantage over the Australian at turn 15, saw him sanctioned with a five-second time penalty.

The situation had him lose only one position in the final race standings to Pierre Gasly, ending up in P8 and still able to score, managing a 5.3s gap to Albon as well to not fall behind the Williams driver.

The young McLaren driver wasn’t pleased with the way the situation had been handled by the race direction, as he felt that such a lax penalty could encourage drivers to attempt these moves on purpose.

His reasoning for the call is the fact that, especially in a Sunday race, it could be easier to just complete the overtake and drive away to create a big gap even with a penalty, rather than having to wait for the right occasion within the track limits, thus losing time behind slower cars.

After the sprint race, Piastri recounted the episode, explaining how it happened and comparing it to a similar, but legal, situation which happened in the same race: Albon’s outside move on him, which had been investigated at first, but with no further action deemed necessary.

“I wasn’t really looking at him because he was behind me. I’ve seen the replay of it, he clearly just accelerates off the track and goes past. I don’t think you can get close to arguing that was a 50/50. The five seconds made a bit of difference to his race, but not much. That’s the kind of thing you can do when you are in a faster car in a situation like that and I don’t think it is great for everyone.”

Piastri also had a battle with Alex Albon during the race as the Thai went off the circuit at turn 1. However, the Melbourne-born driver had no issue with that one as they were side-by-side.

“The one with George, the front wing wasn’t even at my rear wheel, the one with Alex we were wheel to wheel. He had the right to stay on the outside, I pushed him as much as I could and he managed to hang on so I didn’t really see any issue with that one.”

The winner of the previous Sprint Race in Qatar wasn’t satisfied with the punishment handed out to Russell, as in his opinion it would have been more fair to return the illegitimate on track position immediately like it happened in previous years.

In fact, the return of the track position had been the norm until the beginning of 2022, when in the guidelines issued by the FIA for the new season racing directors were instructed not to contact the teams on the matter, and to issue a time penalty if needed.

“The one with George was clear, the stewards gave him a penalty for it. It’s just a question in that racing situation whether the penalty was right and whether it sets a precedent for the future.”

Photo credit: McLaren Racing

Asked if he believes that Russell had gone off track deliberately, Piastri didn’t want to go that far, but he also raised concerns that someone else, with a longer race ahead, might be inspired to pull the same kind of overtake when stuck in a similar situation:

“I don’t know if I would go that far. I feel like in that situation, to me that was quite blatant. I feel like swapping the cars back around shouldn’t be that difficult in that set of circumstances.

“If it’s only going to be five seconds for that, especially in a longer race tomorrow, it is going to be beneficial if you can clear slower cars. So maybe some people will have it pre-meditated, but it definitely sets a bit of a precedent for the kind of penalty you are going to get for doing that.

“If you are in a quicker car, it does give you an incentive,” he highlighted.

His teammate Lando Norris was even more explicit in expressing his disappointment with the lack of measures taken by the stewards, adding that the issue had been already brought up by the drivers in an earlier meeting.

He also cited Fernando Alonso doing it at Sochi in 2021 as an example.

“These things have been brought up so many times in drivers’ briefings. It’s a point that we bring up every time, it’s a point that George brought up himself in Barcelona with the fact that you can commit to the outside line in [Turn] 1, just overdoing it, you get past two cars – like we saw people doing in Russia as well in Turn 2.”

The McLaren driver, set to start the race later from the front row, brought up the easy advantage that such a move can give by going off the track instead of having to fight for the overtake.

He’s even warned he’ll do the same today if it’s required against Charles Leclerc.

“So it’s something you can easily prepare yourself for and I’m pretty sure we came up with the conclusion that people are going to do it on purpose. We discussed this exact thing and we discussed that if you’re quicker, you could get someone, and you’re easily going to pull away five seconds – in Monaco for example, you cut the chicane.

“So they said ‘OK, we’ll do it so you have to give the position, but now they’ve set a precedent of not even having to do that. They’ve set a precedent of being able to easily do that. So if I have it with the Ferrari tomorrow, I just commit to doing it, it’s five seconds and I pull away five seconds.

“There’s a bit of a lack of consistency once again, which I’m a bit surprised by. I thought it was quite a clear guideline of what they were going to do when such a thing happened but clearly not,” concluded the British driver, calling for more fairness in stewarding, and it’s not for the first time in his 99 Formula 1 starts.